How the Swans became Sydney’s biggest footy team – and why they’ll only get bigger

Dane Rampe grew up in Sydney’s japanese suburbs, and so has watched the sluggish and regular rise of the Swans unfold from shut quarters. But even he’s sometimes shocked on the extent to which sure elements of town have come to embrace them.

“You have people kind of recognise you, looking at you a little bit more … I’m thinking, ‘f—, have I double-parked you in or something? What are you looking at me for?’” the Swans key defender stated, laughing.

“And they’re like, ‘Oh mate, just wanted to say good luck this year’, or, ‘Well done on the weekend’.

Sydeysider Dane Rampe has watched the rise in support for the Swans, but even he is sometimes surprised by how big they are getting.Credit:SMH

“It’s still foreign, but I reckon after COVID it’s probably galvanised the city. Everyone’s tuned in a little bit more. It’s probably that cherry on top, for the work that’s been done over the last five to 10 years, because the game is in a really healthy spot up here.”

Most Swans gamers have related tales. Callum Mills was cheered out of a restaurant when he dropped in for a pre-game espresso final weekend. “I couldn’t stop laughing. I was like, what is going on? This isn’t Sydney,” he instructed the ABC. “You go to the beach and there’s Swans hats everywhere. It’s awesome to see the city behind us.”

Their former teammate, Kieren Jack, can really feel {that a} new era in and across the membership’s Paddington base has latched onto the crimson and white. One ex-Swans worker described this well-heeled cohort of younger professionals because the “Merivale set” – the kind of people that repeatedly populate hospitality baron Justin Hemmes’ flashy pubs, bars and eating places, and for whom the SCG isn’t just a spot to see the Swans play, however a spot to be seen.

With respect to Rampe and Mills – two of the Swans three co-captains this season, each born-and-bred Sydneysiders – footy’s actually not so international any extra. This is Sydney. At least within the east, the north, and the interior west, and possibly different pockets quickly.


Rugby league will all the time be the largest recreation on the town, however the Swans are simply town’s largest sporting crew. If you peel again the layers, because the membership readies for its fourth AFL grand closing in 10 years, and have a look at the the reason why, there are some highly effective dynamics at play.

Putting the COVID seasons apart, the Swans have had the very best common attendance of any sporting crew in Sydney yearly stretching again to 1995. This yr it was 29,424; the closest NRL crew was Parramatta (20,015), who’re contending for his or her first premiership since 1986.

Sydney’s present membership base is a whopping 55,394, once more outstripping their nearest NRL rival. Roy Morgan’s annual AFL fan survey, regardless of how rubbery the science behind its figures may be, estimates the total dimension of the broader Bloods bandwagon is greater than 1 million – making them the most-supported membership within the AFL, which they’ve been yearly since their drought-breaking 2005 flag.

No longer can Swans supporters be seen as fair-weather fans - plenty are rusted-on.

No longer can Swans supporters be seen as fair-weather followers – lots are rusted-on.Credit:Getty

The stereotype has all the time been that Sydney followers are fair-weather, and don’t absolutely perceive or admire the nuances of the sport as these in conventional AFL states do. But even that’s altering.

“One thing that really hit home to me was in round 22 against Collingwood,” stated former Swans chairman Richard Colless, who served between 1993 and 2014 – the beginning of their golden period on and off the sphere.

“For the first time it dawned on me that a lot of people weren’t just sports lovers coming to a big game. There were actually rusted-on Swans fans everywhere you looked. People had caps, scarves, jumpers – and this is kids and women and men and older people, and so on and so forth.


“It was a lightbulb moment, that people have progressed from being more genteel, distant supporters, to being the real McCoy. The standard joke out of Victoria used to be that [Swans fans] cheer in the wrong places, and it was really quite condescending.

“I’m not saying it’s dangerous to go to some venues, but we’re probably the least ‘feral’ – but that shouldn’t in any way infer that the people watching the game are any less passionate.”

The Swans are a mannequin organisation in each manner. Colless is only one of two chairmen, together with incumbent Andrew Pridham, they’ve had in nearly 30 years. They’ve had solely two chief executives prior to now 13 years, and their present one, Tom Harley, is so extensively revered he’s being thought of to replace Gillon McLachlan on the helm of the AFL.

They’ve had three coaches prior to now 26 years, perfecting the artwork of succession planning in a manner few different golf equipment have managed. Their main company backer, QBE, renewed its deal this yr for an additional 5 years, which can take one of many longest-running partnerships in Australian sport to 4 full a long time.

They have missed finals soccer simply 5 occasions since 1996. And the membership’s academy program – a lot to the chagrin of these south of the border, who see it as an unfair benefit as a substitute of a scheme designed to fight the go-home issue with interstate draftees – is pumping out not solely homegrown skills like Mills, Isaac Heeney and Errol Gulden, however tons of of others who don’t make the highest stage, but nonetheless go on to strengthen grassroots leagues with their superior expertise, understanding and stronger bond with the sport.

Fans invade the ground after Lance Franklin’s 1000th goal. The full size of the broader Bloods bandwagon could be more than 1 million.

Fans invade the bottom after Lance Franklin’s a thousandth aim. The full dimension of the broader Bloods bandwagon may very well be greater than 1 million.Credit:Getty

They are actually reaping what Dr Hunter Fujak, a lecturer in sports activities administration at Deakin University and the creator of Code Wars: The Battle for Fans, Dollars and Survival, describes because the “generational dividends” of the strategic investments the membership and the AFL have made in NSW.

For instance, think about an eight-year-old boy was enrolled into Auskick the yr after “Plugger’s Point” within the 1996 preliminary closing – widely considered the moment when the city truly accepted the Swans, who have been transplanted right here as struggling VFL membership South Melbourne in 1982. That boy would now be a person in his mid-30s, to whom Aussie guidelines will not be a international code in any respect, however the one he was raised on, and who sees the Swans as an intrinsically Sydney crew, not a relocated franchise. He’d in all probability have a excessive stage of disposable revenue, and maybe a younger household to indoctrinate as properly.

While the Swans usually don’t fee anyplace close to in addition to NRL video games on tv in Sydney, nearly each match they’ve performed in latest reminiscence has been on free-to-air.

“Every single week, the Swans are getting [a broadcast reach of] 90,000 people tuning in for some component of the game, times 22 games a year, times 20 years,” Fujak stated.

“You’re basically investing into that fundamental exposure in this club in Sydney … that is only possible because the AFL, as a central organisation, have always been so strategic about wanting to promote northern expansion in a way that other codes haven’t been anywhere near.”


Fujak contends Sydney’s territorial good points are additionally the product of fine timing and misfortune from different codes, which helps clarify why the Swans and the game are so in style within the northern and japanese suburbs. All however 5 of the previous 22 premierships gained within the native Sydney AFL competitors have been claimed by golf equipment from these areas – and the others by the Pennant Hills Demons, a unique footy oasis on the perimeter of the western suburbs and north shore.

One half is rugby union’s lack of primacy inside Australian sport and in particular the private school system, where AFL has grown rapidly. Another is the Super League warfare, which fractured rugby league because the Swans started their interval of sustained on-field success – providing any jilted followers a tempting various, backed by what Colless stated was a “clarity of purpose” offered by the membership’s stability and the AFL’s foresight.

Tony Lockett and Andrew Dunkley celebrate the Swans’ win in the 1996 preliminary final. It might have been the moment everything changed for the Swans.

Tony Lockett and Andrew Dunkley have a good time the Swans’ win within the 1996 preliminary closing. It might need been the second all the pieces modified for the Swans.Credit:Stuart Milligan

For his e-book, Fujak caught up with journalist Peter Lewis, who in 1997 wrote The Convert, an account of how the Super League fiasco pushed him from being a North Sydney Bears tragic to following the Swans, to see if his sporting habits had shifted. They hadn’t.

“Twenty-five years later, he still has been a Swans member every year, he’s only been to three or four NRL games,” he stated. “Every one of his kids plays AFL and none of them support an NRL team. When you look at the Super League war, yes, that’s well in the rearview mirror – but there’s this generational scarring or baggage, which the Swans have probably been able to capitalise from in terms of clawing over some disenfranchised people from that period, right as they started to strengthen.”

Anecdotally, many Bears followers seem to have made the identical change after they have been squeezed from rugby league’s high desk after 1999.

Fujak argues that repeated off-field scandals involving NRL gamers have additionally turned off some followers, notably ladies and white-collar staff.

“At a macro level, in Sydney, there are basically two types of football fans,” he stated. “There’s rusted-on rugby league fans, the working-class, male-based, western suburbs fans of the NRL who have been quite resilient to those scandals … and then there are those who probably, if they’re not okay with some of the behavioural scandals that happened, they’re looking for an alternative.

“Historically, that’s been rugby union, but past their peak of 2003 [when the defending champion Wallabies hosted the World Cup and lost to England in extra time in the final], the Swans then win their grand final in 2005 and they really start eroding and crossing over those rugby union people and making AFL almost the upper-class sport of choice in Sydney.

“I don’t have the data myself, but I’ve had these conversations with the guys at the SCG Trust – you get given a ticket when you’re a member, and you use your barcode to get in and out. They can look at the ticket scanning to see how people’s behaviours have changed over time. And the growth of the Swans was very much the people who had previously been scanning in to watch rugby union.”

The values of the Swans and their cosmopolitan assist base are additionally intently aligned. They have been the primary AFL crew to institute a “pride game” to have a good time the LGBTQ neighborhood, though some have famous this conflicts with their ongoing sponsorship association with Qatar Airways.

Two a long time in the past, they arrange the primary “Marn Grook” match honouring Indigenous contribution to the game. This is now an annual occasion, which impressed Richmond and Essendon’s Dreamtime on the ‘G’ conflict and the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round.

Any fan who makes the trek from Central Station to the SCG will stroll previous a mural of membership legend Adam Goodes – and through the racism saga that noticed him booed into retirement, supporting the Swans, or on the very least sporting a guernsey with the quantity 37 on it, turned a type of political assertion of its personal.

This has made the Swans up to now proof against the type of model harm that a lot of their rivals, like Collingwood, Adelaide and now Hawthorn, have sustained on the Indigenous entrance.

Any fan who makes the trek from Central Station to the SCG will walk past a mural of club legend Adam Goodes.

Any fan who makes the trek from Central Station to the SCG will stroll previous a mural of membership legend Adam Goodes.Credit:Dominic Lorimer

Colless notes that the Moore Park precinct and japanese suburbs is roofed by the federal citizens of Wentworth. “It’s a very, very progressive seat and it used to be a conservative seat,” he stated. “But it’s now got a teal candidate who talks about these sorts of issues – sexual diversity, racial diversity. These are issues that get you elected in this part of the world, which didn’t apply maybe a decade ago.” Warringah, North Sydney and Mackellar went teal, too.


The Swans, maybe to a uncommon fault, have been late to the social gathering on the subject of AFLW, and have been lastly granted a ladies’s crew this season, six years after the competitors began. But whereas they’re struggling on the sphere, but to win a recreation, the virtually 9000-strong crowd at their debut match at North Sydney Oval would put many attendances in main males’s leagues to disgrace.

None of those tendencies appear like ceasing any time quickly. In truth, there’s each cause to suppose that, from right here, the Swans will solely get larger – restricted, in some methods, by the 48,000-capacity of the SCG, which they typically go near filling for giant video games, though that doesn’t imply their broader assist base can’t additionally develop.

The Swans are about to finish development of their new $70 million headquarters on the Royal Hall of Industries in Moore Park, adjoining to the SCG. Remarkably, the membership has loved such constant success with out a state-of-the-art coaching facility. Now, along with a younger, rejuvenated taking part in listing that has reached a grand closing no less than 12 months earlier than most pundits would have anticipated, their premiership window may very well be extensive open for years to come back.


“We’re just so lucky that we’ve got a genuine home base in the heart of where we are and what we’re doing,” Rampe stated. “And that’s really special – a lot of clubs can’t say that is the case. We train and play it the SCG, which is our own, so that’s important.”

And then there’s the AFL’s new broadcast rights deal. Worth $642 million per season over seven years from 2025, it should make the AFL roughly $100 to $170 million higher off yearly compared to the NRL. While footy has struggled to penetrate Sydney’s sprawling western suburbs in the identical manner because it has in different elements of town, this extra cash will give them the ammunition to maintain firing photographs at rival codes – in addition to cement their supremacy throughout the Swans’ current heartland.

“The sheer gap in that revenue and the opportunities that it’s going to create in terms of funding game development officers in NSW and Queensland, funding the professionalisation of women’s sport … I really see this being a moment in time where there becomes this break in the pack, where the AFL now is so far ahead commercially that probably no one will ever come close to them again,” Dr Fujak stated.

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